Pentagon Terror Spy Lab Closed

surveillance camera security global world watching spy
House and Senate negotiators have agreed to close down a controversial Pentagon office that was developing a vast computerized terrorism surveillance system. They also agreed that no money should be spent to use the high-tech spying tools under development against Americans on U.S. soil.

But some of the high-powered software will be shifted to different government offices, to be used to gather intelligence from U.S. citizens abroad and foreigners in this country and abroad.

Among the items shifted was research on collaborative software designed to allow U.S. agents to connect the dots between disparate items of intelligence now scattered among different federal agencies, a senior Senate aide said Thursday.

The Terrorism Information Awareness program was conceived by retired Adm. John Poindexter and was run by the Information Awareness Office that he headed inside the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

It was developing software that could examine the computerized travel, credit card, medical and other records of Americans and others around the world to search for telltale activities that might reveal preparations for a terrorist attack.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has battled the program for months, hailed the result Wednesday. "Americans on American soil are not going to be targets of TIA surveillance that would have violated their privacy and civil liberties," Wyden said in an interview.

"The original Poindexter program would have been the biggest surveillance program in the history of the United States," he added. "Now the lights have gone out on the program conceived by John Poindexter." He said the agreement would allow foreign intelligence gathering on terrorism "without cannibalizing the civil liberties of Americans."

Poindexter's office told contractors he wanted the software to allow U.S. agents to rapidly scan and analyze multiple petabytes of information. Just one petabyte of computer data could fill the Library of Congress more than 50 times.

Wyden said Senate negotiators working on the 2004 defense appropriations bill resisted pressure from House counterparts to adopt a weaker House-passed restriction. Wyden himself had crafted the weaker restriction early this year before additional details of the Pentagon effort became public.

The House restriction, which Wyden earlier got included in another law that expires Oct. 1., allowed the research to continue at DARPA but barred its implementation against Americans in the United States without specific congressional approval. Subsequently, the Senate passed a provision in next year's defense appropriation bill killing funding for the TIA program.

"The conferees agree with the Senate position which eliminates funding for the Terrorism Information Awareness program within the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency," the conference report said in a section Wyden released. "The conferees are concerned about the activities of the Information Awareness Office and direct that the office be terminated immediately."

In addition to the data-scanning project, other TIA efforts that cannot be pursued by DARPA under the conferees' agreement include projects to identify people at a distance by using radar or video images of their gait or facial characteristics.

The conference wrote that four, noncontroversial projects in TIA could continue at DARPA: two to develop software for wargaming future terrorist attacks and the response to them, a project to speed detection of bioterror attacks, and one to develop software that automatically translates foreign documents and broadcasts.

The conferees also wrote, "The conference agreement does not restrict the National Foreign Intelligence Program from using processing, analysis and collaboration tools for counterterrorism foreign intelligence purposes."

The senior Senate aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the conferees had agreed to shift some of the TIA's high-powered software tools to agencies involved in gathering foreign intelligence — information about foreign intentions, plans and capabilities gathered from foreigners or U.S. citizens abroad or from foreigners in this country. The CIA, State Department, Defense Department and other federal agencies participate in the foreign intelligence program.

The Senate aide could not spell out precisely which tools were shifted, how much money was shifted or which agencies received the tools and research funds because those details of the National Foreign Intelligence Program are classified.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, described the conference agreement last Thursday as shifting the anti-terror surveillance program out of DARPA but not eliminating it. Stevens did not release any text of the conference report then, and the portion released Wednesday did not make clear whether the conferees agreed to move the money for some or all of the TIA research from DARPA to one or more other agencies or merely left open the possibility of doing so later.

Poindexter, who was forced to resign as former President Reagan's national security adviser over his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, quit DARPA last month under fire over the surveillance program.

The conferees agreement on the 2004 defense bill is expected to be approved by both houses.